Archive for Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Honeywell to close city plant

Most of 189 employees will shift to company’s Olathe facility

July 15, 2003


Lawrence is losing another major manufacturer.

Honeywell International Inc. said Monday it would close its Lawrence avionics plant by the end of the year, ending nearly a quarter-century of history at the facility.

Company officials told the 189 employees at the plant, 2920 Haskell Ave., their jobs would be moved to the company's larger and newer Olathe facility. Honeywell said it expected to offer transfers to at least 95 percent of the Lawrence workers. Those not offered a transfer will be laid off.

Workers at the Lawrence plant said they weren't surprised by the announcement. Most were pleased the jobs were staying in Kansas -- they knew the company had considered moving the jobs overseas.

"It will create more commuters, that's for sure," said Duane Sawyer, a 15-year employee of the plant. "I commute four and a half miles now and it looks like I'll be commuting about 24 miles when we make the move. But I think everybody is just glad we get to keep our jobs. We knew what the alternative was."

He said most of his co-workers had the same reaction. Honeywell said an employee survey revealed half would have longer commutes and the other half shorter ones after the move.

The decision to move the plant's operations to Olathe was aimed at increasing efficiency, officials said.

Marc Szczerba, vice president and general manager at the Olathe plant, said the Lawrence closing would allow the company to cut overhead costs and better use excess space at Olathe.

"It certainly will make us more competitive in the marketplace," Szczerba said.

Employee quality a factor

About two years ago, Honeywell moved employees from Lawrence to Olathe who manufactured equipment for general and business aviation planes built by Cessna, Canadair and Leer, he said.

The Lawrence plant now primarily manufactures a traffic alert and collision avoidance system used by commercial aircraft. The Olathe plant manufactures similar products for business and general aviation.

Szczerba said the company's business had dropped by about 30 percent since Sept. 11, 2001, but the downturn wasn't the primary factor in closing the Lawrence plant.

In the end, he said, the quality of the Lawrence employees led the company to keep the work in the area.

"It really speaks volumes about our Lawrence employees because we looked at their skill sets and said 'We have to keep them,'" Szczerba said.

He said the company expected virtually every employee who is offered a transfer to take it because the Olathe plant is just 24 miles from Lawrence. The Olathe plant is at the intersection of Kansas highways 10 and 7.

Several employees agreed that most workers would take the Olathe jobs, mainly because similar positions would be hard to find in Lawrence.

"I have to go because there is nowhere in Lawrence that I can find a job with equivalent pay," said Anna Bigman, a 10-year plant employee.

Szczerba said the relocated jobs ranged from maintenance and production workers to engineers and managers. He declined to reveal the average salary.

Industrial space still vacant

Lynn Parman, vice president of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said the fact the jobs would remain in the area helped ease the blow of the company's decision.

"We understand that they could have moved it much farther away than Olathe," she said.

The closing will put a dent in local tax revenues, though. The company's 76,000-square-foot building is appraised at $2.5 million by the county. Its $5.2 million in equipment generated nearly $140,000 in personal property taxes last year, according to county records.

The shutdown also will bring to a close the plant's 24-year history in the city. It has operated in Lawrence under a succession of names since 1979. The plant originally opened as part of the Bendix/King company, later was bought by AlliedSignal and became a part of Honeywell when AlliedSignal merged in 2000 with Honeywell. At that time, the Lawrence plant employed about 400 people.

Szczerba said the company would soon put the building up for sale.

It will be one of several vacant industrial buildings in the city. The 211,000-square-foot Davol Inc. building at 700 E. 22nd St. is still empty after that company closed its manufacturing plant and eliminated 130 jobs earlier this year. Douglas County Development Inc. also has been unable to find a tenant for a 67,000-square-foot industrial building at East Hills Business Park that has been available for about a year.

Parman, though, said she was not concerned about a glut of vacant industrial space in the city.

"We're actually pretty limited in the amount of buildings we have ready to show," Parman said. "We have been eliminated from several searches because we haven't had the right-sized building."

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